PETALING JAYA: Terengganu-born Ustaz Abdullah Zaik Abdul Rahman has been grabbing headlines and incurring public wrath in his role as Ikatan Muslimin Malaysia (Isma) president.
After a number of controversial statements, including one labelling the Chinese community "trespassers", the leader of the far-right Muslim-Malay group has arguably overtaken Perkasa's Ibrahim Ali and Zul Noordin as the man Malaysian netizens love to hate.
However, Abdullah Zaik defends his hardline stance and says that he is a victim of lopsided media portrayals.
"We are far from racists. A racist ideology would be to assume one race is "dimuliakan secara semulajadi" (naturally glorified) such as the beliefs held by the Israelis. When we defend the fate of our race, to speak on behalf of them, that is not racist," he said.
But just who is the man who has filled so many Malaysian hearts with righteous indignation?
Born in Besut with an early education in the Sarawi stream (Arab-medium and religious-leaning) classes of SM Sultan Zainal Abidin, Abdullah Zaik, 48, says he developed a deep interest in Islamic studies from a young age ever since being exposed to dakwah (missionary) organisations during his schooldays.
Abdullah Zaik, who is the fourth of six siblings, said that he did not face resistance from his parents, who are farmers, in pursuing his life goals, and generally did not interfere in his life choices.
He followed his passion all the way to Egypt, graduating from Cairo's Al-Azhar university with a degree in Islamic Law in 1994.
Before trying his hand in activism, Abdullah Zaik had a career as a school teacher in Kedah and a stint as a consultant.
Although he was not a founding member of Isma, Abdullah Zaik was drawn to the group's ideologies of Isma and soon joined up. He then saw himself entrusted with the leadership of the 20,000-member NGO and is currently working full-time with them.
The NGO is fully funded by contributions of members, with a few corporate sponsorships.
While most of its members are based in Selangor, Isma has 26 branches across the nation and conducts educational programmes for children, youth and adults.
Isma even has active divisions in Britain, Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Australia and New Zealand, claims Abdullah Zaik.
It is somewhat surprising given ISMA's Malay-first stance that the NGO's headquarters are located in Selangor, one of Malaysia's most racially diverse states.
The large numbers of universities in the state is the reason for this, said Zaik, adding that Selangor has the highest number of middle-class educated Malays.
Unlike Malay-rights NGO Perkasa, Isma's members consist of a large number of professionals including academicians, doctors, engineers, scientists, a smattering of non-Malay Muslims and a strong student involvement who make up its largest support base.
The father of nine was calm and composed throughout most of his interview with The Star Online, firstly apologising for his strained voice due to a sore throat as he sat down for a chat - although at he became steadily more animated on certain key issues.
It must be said that deciphering Abdullah Zaik's dogma isn't particularly easy. Although he vehemently insists that Isma is founded on Islamic policies and not racial ones, the NGO's history is steeped in pro-Malay activism.
But why the emphasis on Malay supremacy instead of a holistic approach to all races?
One cannot deny that the demographic of Malaysia is predominantly Malay-Muslim which is why Isma targets to uphold Malay interests, said Abdullah Zaik.
That in turn, he maintained, translates to national interest.
"When I returned to Malaysia, even before actually, I examined the reality of the nation and used a dakwah method applicable to the country," said Abdullah Zaik of the Malay majority.
He added that while there were Indian and Chinese Muslims, the numbers are small. While Abdullah Zaik's priority was to champion Islam, he claimed to have done so in a method founded on the context of the nation.
" Malay is no longer an ethnic issue but a national identity," he claimed, while at the same time admitting that it is hard to find a 'pure Malay' in a country whose history is a tapestry of multiculturalism.
He claims that from being 'jaguh dunia' (world champions), Malays have been degraded to 'manusia kerdil' (small people).
Pointing to the rule of Sultan Mansur Shah of Malacca (15th CE), as the paragon of Malay-Muslim culture and identity, he declares that it was a model and example of Islam's strength which he says was applied independently without barrier or restraints from other races.
Claiming that Malays hold a lowly position, Abdullah Zaik blamed the Malay "colonial mentality", the shrewdness of certain non-Malay leaders and a stealthy Jewish conspiracy.
"Islam does not differentiate race, it is a global religion. However, it does not eradicate identity. Islam is unifying but it does not change the identity of any race. It is liberalism which eradicates this national identity," said Abdullah Zaik, labelling liberalism, pluralism and humanism as Jewish tools to manipulate and eradicate national identity.
When questioned on whether equally-controversial lecturer Ridhuan Tee Abdullah is considered Malay, since he is a strong proponent of Malay rights despite being born from a Chinese family, Isma's answer was simple.
"We support Ridhuan Tee's views. To us, he is Malay," said Abdullah Zaik.
However, Abdullah Zaik opposed Ridhuan Tee's suggestion that unhappy non-Muslims should leave the nation.
"It is not our approach to ask them to leave but they must understand," he said.
Non-Muslims must adhere to the social contract, laws and constitution of where they live and not "naik kepala" (act beyond their means), argued Abdullah Zaik, who said that act of going beyond the social contract is the actual extremism and not the statements of Isma.
Isma also has a firm stance Malaysian religions sects like Al-Arwam.
"They do not have the proper approach to Islam. Our understanding is very different. I consider their beliefs non-adherent to Islamic tenets," said Abdullah Zaik.
When asked why Isma received such a strong backlash, Abdullah Zaik said that it was a reaction from "liberals and Christians" who fear them.
Isma's non-partisan stance, siding with neither Malay-based Umno or Islamic-driven PAS, allows the NGO an ability to comment on all issues across the board, explained Abdullah Zaik.
"That way, we are free to say things which political parties might not. We are not tied and have the advantage of speaking freely," he said, adding that in the NGO, Islamic belief is not compromised.
He also argued that fighting between the two parties is what holds back the Malay-Muslim cause.
Among that condemned were Anwar Ibrahim's "foreign beliefs and liberalism."
"I do not perceive Anwar to be an Islamist. Maybe a socialist. He brings a liberal-democratic idealism," he answered curtly when queried about Anwar's past efforts to uphold Malay nationalism.
Umno, as well, does not fully comply with Isma's stands, claimed Abdullah Zaik.
"They have inherited a colonial-infused (social-political) structure after independence. This needs to change in order to fulfil Islamic ambitions," he said.
He concluded by emphasising his belief that sharing a harmonious Malaysia together is not a problem, but economical and political power and sovereignty should be held by Malays.
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